The EU has ruled out an immediate ban on vaccine exports, but signalled there could be consequences if manufacturers do not produce the expected doses.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, Joao Vale de Almeida, the bloc‘s ambassador to London, confirmed that the European Commission is not introducing export bans on vaccine supplies, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed with Ursula von der Leyen on Friday night.
But he added that “everyone will have access to the vaccines” if “companies export according to their contractual obligations and our expectations in contracts are met”.
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Mr Vale de Almeida warned: “We want to know and make sure contracts are respected and that pharma companies are doing what they’re supposed to do, according to contracts we’ve made with them.
“We’ve spent billions to guarantee 2.2 billion doses for our citizens, so need to make sure this is done.
“If these companies export according to their contractual obligations and our own expectations in contracts are met, everything will be smooth and everybody will have access to the vaccines.”
Pressed on whether there would be an export ban in the future to combat supply problems, or just no ban right now, the ambassador replied: “There is no export ban in the sense we are not stopping exports of the vaccines. We are establishing a mechanism that allows increased transparency.”
He added: “Let’s be clear, as Ursula von der Leyen was – contractual obligations will be respected, will be protected.
“That’s the purpose. To make sure the vaccine producers respect commitments and that the vaccines really reach those who should benefit.”
He confirmed it was the existing transparency mechanism that does not ban exports to the UK, adding: “I can absolutely confirm first we are not introducing an export ban on vaccines.
“That is not the purpose of this regulation. What we’re doing is introducing transparency.”
EU sources stressed the complexity of the issue and unprecedented nature of the crisis countries have had to face.
They confirmed the ambassador was only committing to no export ban at present, but would not say this would be a consequence if companies like AstraZeneca fail to uphold their contractual agreements with the EU.
Mr Vale de Almeida called the sudden triggering of a controversial part of the Brexit Northern Ireland protocol known as Article 16 an “oversight”.
He said Brussels had an “issue with the initial draft of legislation – quickly corrected”.
Explained: What is Article 16 and why did the EU make a U-turn after triggering it?
Mr Vale de Almeida also responded to Mr Johnson describing trouble with trade at some ports since the post-Brexit transition period ended as “teething problems”.
Mr Vale de Almeida said while some issues would be temporary, others will be longer-lasting.
“You have to understand we reached the deal on Christmas Eve, and on 1 January everybody had to apply new rules and provisions,” he explained.
“So it takes some time for administrations and businesses to adapt to the new realities. These are problems linked to the transition phase in the first weeks and months.
“There are issues that will not go away – because of the choices made in terms of the way you exited the EU. And that needs to be acknowledged.”
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